Julie and Julia cooks up a tasty dual biography
In what may be a Hollywood first, the film Julie and Julia is “based on two true stories” as it tackles the life of Julia Child, the self-made chef who brought European
cuisine into American households via television, and a young woman who finds
the confidence to pursue her dreams through emulating her style. Fact-based
films are filled with all sorts of narrative landmines as they often sacrifice
the truth — and credibility — for the sake of expedience. As such, director Nora Ephron seems to be doubling
the possibility of failure in taking on the lives of two women. However, while
the film winds up being far too long, its overall charm and Child’s fascinating story triumphs in the end, making this a surprisingly engaging and
entertaining piece of “faction.”
At first glance, it would appear that Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell (Amy Adams) have nothing in common. The former was an OSS agent during World War II who, upon being stationed in Paris with her husband Paul (the wonderful Stanley Tucci) after the war, finds herself adrift and without purpose. Attempting to take up various hobbies and crafts, Child decides to enroll at the Cordon Bleu cooking school to learn how to be a chef simply because she loves to eat. The rest, as they say, is culinary history.
Julie’s experiences were much less romantic. Having come to New York City with her husband, she finds herself working a thankless and stressful job at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation that helped the families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Depressed and feeling left behind by her more successful friends, she takes solace in the kitchen and comes up with the idea of making each recipe in Child’s seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As if that weren’t difficult in and of itself, she sets out to do this in a year, write a blog so her progress can be monitored and work in the world’s smallest kitchen. Oh, and the book has 524 recipes in it.
Each of the stories is quite entertaining…for a while. Streep delivers a fun performance as she brings Child’s oversized personality to life, relishing each small triumph on her way to becoming a household name and writing her book, approaching every day with a sense of optimism that’s never cloying or overbearing. It’s obvious the actress is having a good time, which helps when the story starts to drag a bit. It took Child and her two collaborators eight years to complete their book and at times, it seems as though we’re with them every single one of those days.
Adams has a more thankless job bringing Powell to life as she comes off as whiny and self-centered far too much of the time. The actress’ trademark brand of pluck sees her through, but it’s rough going at times, as there are far too many moments in which we have to see her wrestle with doubt and rage at the heavens at the injustice of working in a small kitchen. This is cute at first but quickly becomes annoying. When her husband takes a brief hike from her for a much-needed break, I wished I could join him.
In the end, this tale of self-actualization is satisfying, akin to taking in a Thanksgiving dinner. I’m glad I experienced it but I walked away far too full and in no hurry to do it again anytime soon.